November 12, 2015

Vroom, vroom

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It's been a while since I last caught up with a couple of friends, and they asked me whether there were any new restaurants I wanted to try out.  Normally I keep the list of new openings buried in the back of my mind, as I would only visit months after opening - when things have hopefully worked themselves out.  This time I threw out two names, and my friends chose Mercedes me.

When I first heard about this place, my immediate reaction was basically: "WTF?!"  A few luxury brands have opened up eateries in town, but I've never had any interest in visiting them because, rightly or wrongly, I see them essentially as places where you pay for the decor and branding - and where the food is of secondary concern.  But Mercedes have chosen Maximal Concepts as their partner, and these guys generally run joints where the food is pretty decent.

Then I saw my friend e_ting post a couple of pics on social media from her invitation meal, and that really piqued my interest.  Why not pop over to nibble on the food and get a chance to check out some cars at the same time?  It is, after all, a Mercedes store...

We were led to a booth upon arrival, which was a little too cozy for the 4 of us.  The place was very hip(ster), with a dark atmosphere, spot lights in all the strategic places, lively music, and waitstaff with body ink.  Thankfully each and every table seemed well-lit, so I wouldn't have any trouble with food pics tonight.

The menu looks a little compact at first glance, as it's all on two pages, but it does cover just under 30 items in all.  We started with a few cold items, then ordered another round of mostly hot dishes.

Sea urchin, fig, nori cracker, oyster leaf, ponzu - this was one of the dishes I had read about, so expectations were high.  I could smell the ponzu (ポン酢) when the dish arrived.  I ate this in one bite, so I didn't pay too much attention to the flavors of the individual ingredients... kinda like Pigsy (豬八戒) in Journey to the West (西遊記) when he swallowed peaches whole and didn't really know what they tasted like.  Anyway, my mouthful tasted pretty good, as all the ingredients seemed to meld together, but I wasn't particularly blown away as I had expected.  Maybe I need another bite...

Sustainable blue fin tuna, cucumber, ponzu-sesame sauce - I normally don't touch blue fin tuna as it's not sustainable, but here it's labeled "sustainable"... so I figured what the heck.  Came with avocado, orange, red onions, and sesame.  Unfortunately the sauce was too salty for me.

Organic 100% grass fed steak tartare, pickled egg yolk, 15 secret ingredients - "organic" and "grass-fed" are two buzzwords that are likely to push people's buttons, so I promptly ordered it up.  Unfortunately I found the flavors to be a little bland... as in the beef itself.  The combination of 15 secret ingredients also produced a lighter result.

Crispy salmon skin, cured salmon roe, whipped horseradish - deep-fried fish skin is always a good idea, and these were no exception.  So satisfyingly crunchy...

The horseradish was very, very light - both in terms of the kick and also the airy texture.  Loved the idea of incorporating salmon roe.

Italian beef heart tomato, avocado, coriander, lime - this was alright and nothing special.

Fresh burrata, tomato, cherry, black sesame, lavender - this was very, very creamy.  pretty nice.

Chicken empanada, spicy pico de gallo - it's been a while since I last had empanadas, and these were very fluffy and crunchy on the outside.  Pretty yummy, with what seemed to be soy beans giving some crunchy texture.

Croquette, jamón, scallions - absolutely no complaints here... creamy, savory center.

Spanish octopus, puffed pork skin, potato foam, smoked paprika - the octopus was nice and smoky, with yummy potato foam on the bottom.  What seemed to be rice crispies on top were actually bits of puffed pork rind.  Very, very good.

Baked angel hair pasta, seaweed, roasted garlic aioli, cooked in prawn jus - another dish that was highly anticipated.  I had had something similar at On Lot 10 a while ago, and loved the way these things are done.  What's not to love about some noodles soaking up tons of umami flavors from prawn jus?  The aioli always matches well, and love the seaweed.

Lamb short ribs, romesco, padron green peppers - I really, really loved these lamb short ribs.  The flavors were very lamby, and they were dry and crispy.  Really satisfying both in terms of flavors and texture.  The romesco sauce was nice, too.  They ran out of padrón peppers today, hence we were seeing red.

One complaint I had was that when the dish arrived, one of the pieces fell off the plate onto the table.  I was surprised that our waitress didn't bother doing anything about it, so I pointed it out to my friends.  At this point the waitress came back, picked it up and took it away.  We fully expected to be made whole by the kitchen, but a replacement never came.

Ginger sorbet, white chocolate and yogurt ganache, passion fruit - I thought this was a pretty pleasant dessert, and certainly very floral in terms of flavors.

Caramelized Catalan cream foam, vanilla ice cream, orange, honeycomb - I really did love this dessert, since I love crema catalana.  This has the added benefit of citrus fragrance and the crunch of honeycomb bits.

We took it easy and only brought two bottles tonight...

2003 Penfolds Yattarna - buttery, a little vanilla, oaky, and lemon notes.  Acidity was a little higher than expected.  Needs time to open up.

2006 Liger-Belair Vosne-Romanée Clos du Château - really sweet and fruity nose, wow!  Amazing!  So sweet it was like overripe honeydew melon, with floral notes like rose.  Some dried herbs, too.  Palate was a little thin and acidic.

Well, overall I think the food tonight surprised on the upside.  A few of the dishes were really delicious, so I couldn't be justified in pooh-poohing the food.  In terms of pricing it was about what I expected - priced at a slight premium, but not so high that I'd scream highway robbery.  Price performance was certainly better than a lot of the restaurants in a 500m radius...

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